Robert Smigel

Robert Smigel

Born (1960-02-07) February 7, 1960
New York City, New York, U.S
Years active 1985–present
Genres Insult comedy
Spouse Michelle Saks (3 children)
Notable works and roles Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog

Robert Smigel (born February 7, 1960) is an American actor, humorist, comedian and writer known for his Saturday Night Live "TV Funhouse" cartoon shorts and as the puppeteer and voice behind Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. He also co-wrote both Hotel Transylvania films and You Don't Mess with the Zohan, all starring Adam Sandler.

Early life

Smigel was born in New York City to Irwin Smigel and Lucia Smigel. He is Jewish and frequently went to Jewish summer camp.[1] He attended Cornell University, studying pre-dental,[2] and graduated from New York University in 1983 with a degree in political science.[3][4]

Smigel began developing his comedic talent at The Players Workshop in Chicago, where he studied improvisation with Josephine Forsberg. Fellow students included Bob Odenkirk. Smigel was also a member of the Chicago comedy troupe "All You Can Eat" in the early 1980s.


Smigel first established himself as a writer on Saturday Night Live by joining the writing staff when Lorne Michaels returned as executive producer for the 1985–1986 season. Smigel was hired after then-SNL producers Al Franken and Tom Davis saw Smigel in a Chicago sketch show.[5] After the 1985–1986 season proved to be a disappointment with critics, in the ratings, and with Brandon Tartikoff (who was planning to have SNL canceled by the last episode of season 11 due to its sliding ratings),[6] Michaels fired most of the cast and writers, retained the cast and writers who were standouts during the otherwise dismal season (Smigel being one of them), and hired new ones for the 1986–1987 season. This is when Smigel began to write more memorable sketches, including one where host William Shatner urged worshipful attendees at a Star Trek convention to "get a life." Smigel rarely appeared on screen, though he was credited as a featured player in the early 1990s and played a recurring character in the Bill Swerski's Superfans sketches.

While on a writers' strike from Saturday Night Live following the 1987–88 season, Smigel wrote for an improvisational comedy revue in Chicago with fellow SNL writers Bob Odenkirk and Conan O'Brien called Happy Happy Good Show.[7]

Smigel co-wrote Lookwell with Conan O'Brien for NBC. The pilot never went to series, but it has become a cult hit and has screened live at "The Other Network", a festival of un-aired TV pilots produced by Un-Cabaret, featuring live and taped intros by Smigel. Smigel later became the first head writer at Late Night with Conan O'Brien, where he created numerous successful comedy bits, including one where Smigel performed only the lips of public figures which were superimposed on photos of the actual people. (This technique was pioneered on the Clutch Cargo cartoon series as a cost-saving measure, and was known as Syncro-Vox.)

In 1996, Smigel wrote and performed on the short-lived Dana Carvey Show, a primetime sketch comedy program on ABC. Despite its premature end, the show provided Smigel the opportunity to debut his first cartoon, The Ambiguously Gay Duo.[8] Upon the show's cancellation, Smigel continued developing more cartoon ideas the following summer and would begin airing them on Saturday Night Live under the TV Funhouse banner. Smigel would later claim, "My whole career came out of the impulse to do cartoons on The Dana Carvey Show."[9]

Robert Smigel performing Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog

Smigel's most famous creation, however, would be the foul-mouthed puppet Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, who mercilessly mocks celebrities and others in the style of a Borscht Belt comedian. This character debuted on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in February 1997 and would continue to make appearances on the show, as well as others, for many years to come.

Smigel continued to establish himself on Saturday Night Live by producing short animated segments under the title TV Funhouse, which usually satirizes public figures and popular culture. It spawned a TV show on Comedy Central featuring a mix of puppets, animation, and short sketches, although only eight episodes were aired (during the winter of 2000–2001). Smigel occasionally appears in films (usually alongside SNL veterans such as Adam Sandler). According to interviews, Smigel helped punch up the scripts for Little Nicky and The Wedding Singer. Smigel acted alongside fellow SNL writer Bob Odenkirk in Wayne's World 2 as a nerd backstage at an Aerosmith concert. His contributions were uncredited.

In 2000, he voiced a sage bulldog in Little Nicky. Smigel, along with Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, wrote the script for the film You Don't Mess with the Zohan in which Smigel played Yosi, an Israeli electronics salesman. Smigel is also one of the executive producers of the film, which is a first for him despite his frequent collaborations with Sandler.

It was reported in 2006 that Smigel and Adam Sandler were working on an animated sitcom for Fox called Animals. Fox has not made any official statement regarding the show.[10] Additionally, Smigel played a gay mailman in the Adam Sandler film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Yari the Mechanic in the "Mister Softee"[11] episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

He voiced Ray and a parody of the Star Wars character, Emperor Palpatine, in the first episode of Robot Chicken Star Wars, as well as the monster 100 in the episode of the same name of Aqua Unit Patrol Squad on Cartoon Network's [adult swim].

Currently living in New York, he co-wrote and co-executive produced the films Hotel Transylvania (2012) and Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015), in which he voiced Marty, a fake version of Dracula, and Harry Three-Eye, respectively. In the fifth season of the FX show, Louie, Smigel received a story credit on the episode "Cop Story", as a similar incident as to what appears in the show actually happened to him, down to the cop crying in his apartment while Smigel went out, found the missing gun and carried it home, terrified that anyone would notice. Michael Rapaport's character wasn't based on the man Smigel knew, however, since all Smigel ever told Louis C.K. about was the gun itself.[12]

Smigel created, wrote, executive produced, and starred as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in The Jack and Triumph Show, alongside Jack McBrayer in 2015. It was announced in January 2016 that Smigel would be starring as Triumph in Triumph's Election Special 2016 on Hulu the following February.[13]

Personal life

Smigel has a wife, Michelle, and a child with autism. They serve on the board of New York Collaborates for Autism (NYCA), a non-profit organization founded in 2003 to address the needs of individuals and families who are living with autism.[14]

Recurring characters on SNL

Celebrity impressions

Recurring characters on Late Night with Conan O'Brien


Year Title Role Notes
1985–2013 Saturday Night Live Various Writer, producer
1988 Superman 50th Anniversary Special The Brainwave
1991 Lookwell N/A Television pilot; co-writer
1993 Wayne's World 2 Concert Nerd
Late Night with Conan O'Brien Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Also writer and producer
1995 Howie Mandel's Sunny Skies Phillip 1 episode
Billy Madison Mr. Oblaski
1996 The Dana Carvey Show Various Writer
Happy Gilmore IRS Agent
1998 Tomorrow Night Mail Room Guy with Glasses
The Wedding Singer Andre
1999 LateLine Pearce Dummy Episode: "Pearce on Conan"
2000 Little Nicky Mr. Beefy (voice) Episode: "Pearce on Conan"
ShortCuts Clive Barnes Episode: "Food"
2000–2001 TV Funhouse Various (voices) Also creator, writer, and producer
2002 Punch-Drunk Love Walter the Dentist
It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice)
2003–2007 Crank Yankers Lawer / Samir / John Tierney Three episodes
2004 Space Ghost Coast to Coast Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Episode: "Dreams"
2005 Arrested Development Motherboy Member Episode: "Motherboy XXX"
"Ass Like That" Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Music video
2006–2015 Night of Too Many Stars Himself / Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Five television specials; also writer
2007 Robot Chicken: Star Wars Palpatine Parody / Ray (voices)
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry Mailman
2008 You Don't Mess with the Zohan Yosi Also co-writer and producer
Lewis Black's Root of All Evil Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Episode: "NRA vs PETA"
2009–2010 The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) 3 episodes
2010 Aqua Teen Hunger Force One Hundred Episode: "One Hundred"
2011 Curb Your Enthusiasm Yari Episode: "Mister Softee"
Jack and Jill N/A Executive producer
2011–2016 Conan Various 11 episodes
2012 Hotel Transylvania Fake Dracula / Marty (voices) Also co-writer and executive producer
This Is 40 Barry
2012–2015 Bob's Burgers Security Guard 2 episodes
2014 Comedy Underground with Dave Attell Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) 1 episode
2015 Park Bench with Steve Buscemi Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Episode: "Every Dog Has Its Day"
The Jack and Triumph Show Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Also creator, writer, and executive producer
Pixels White House Reporter #2
Louie N/A Episode: "Cop Story"; story
The Jim Gaffigan Show Cory Episode: "Red Velvet If You Please"
Hotel Transylvania 2 Marty / Harry Three-Eye / Navigator (voices) Also co-writer and executive producer
2016 Triumph's Election Special 2016 Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (voice) Television special; also writer
Portlandia Jarvis Episode: "Lance Is Smart"

Further reading


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